What. A. Finish.
After a week off from writing this column to get married (and I completely outkicked the coverage!) and enjoy a short honeymoon, I get to come back and break down a win like this. I have to say, I am sure feeling blessed. As far as the game, Christopher Nolan couldn’t script an ending more thrilling or appropriate than what transpired in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s heart attack victory over the Vols. Regardless of how the Gators got there or how disconnected and inconsistent the offense seemed over the previous 3 quarters, it fired on all cylinders when it mattered and put the Florida Gators on top of the scoreboard. Ultimately, that is what matters.
Perhaps the biggest thing we saw was the emergence of a quarterback in Will Grier. While he had a spotty first three quarters, he was money when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter. This was especially true on fourth down, with Grier going a perfect 5-for-5 on the game. The biggest fourth down was obviously the fourth and fourteen to Antonio Callaway for the game tying score that led to the winning extra point. It’s a play that Head Coach Jim McElwain calls “Train Right Jill Big Ben In.” In his nomenclature, ‘Train Right’ is Trips to the right side of the formation with the back aligned to the weakside. From this formation, ‘Big Ben In’ is a concept that Coach Mac borrowed from his time in the John L Smith/Bobby Petrino one back offense run at Louisville and Michigan State around the turn of the century. You can see a variation (Called “Cal”) below from Bobby Petrino’s 2004 Louisville playbook.
Mac’s version is slightly different. Rather than 5 yard under, his receivers to the trips side run Digs and are told to simply get past the first down marker. The concept still has the same effect, though.
The idea is that against a single safety defense rolled to the trips side, you have a 1-on-1 matchup to the single receiver side with your best receiver (in our case, Demarcus Robinson. The single receiver route can change and the specific route isn’t really important. As best I can tell, Robinson was running a fade.
Against split safety coverage, the route concept to the trips side gives you an advantage. The corner route is treated as an “alert” by the quarterback. It’s designed to take the safety with it out of the play, but if the coverage is blown and the corner route opens quick (prior to the end of the drop), the QB throws it. If it isn’t immediately open, the quarterback moves to the twin digs and reads them inside out. Check out the video below to see it all explained in action:
Powell’s Extra Effort
I also have to take another opportunity to give kudos to Brandon Powell for his block to take out multiple UT defenders and spring Callaway for the score. Callaway and Will Grier may get the glory, but Powell’s block was just the capstone on some tremendously gritty play by number 4 in the fourth quarter. If this was College Football Final, he’d be getting my helmet sticker this week.
D-Rob Dogging It
One unfortunate negative that was obvious on the final touchdown and several other plays was the loaf off the line by Demarcus Robinson, who obviously knew based on the coverage that the ball wasn’t coming his way. Message to D-Rob: the other team doesn’t know the ball isn’t coming your way. Run your routes hard for your teammates. You never know when your QB will have to come back to you in the progression or be flushed to your side. You are good, but you are NOT Randy Moss, and that won’t fly on Sundays.
One of Will Grier’s other fourth down successes came on the pass below to Brandon Powell in the third quarter. The play was on a well-known concept called ‘follow’ or ‘angle’. It’s a very common route out of Bunch formations that complements the base shallow cross concept that is Mark Richt’s bread and butter at Georgia and that we saw several times against UT out of the Kurt Roper offense last year. While Roper ran it from spread formations, Bunch formations are something Mac has liked dating back to his days at Bama and before when he would motion Chris Smelley into and out of the inside receiver position in the bunch formation and present the offense with multiple problems.
The basic idea is that with the base Shallow Cross, you have a shallow, a choice (curl or dig), and a flat route to one side read inside to out, as noted in the column linked above. With the Follow, you start making teams pay that are a little aggressive in getting their linebackers out into the flat against shiftier receivers, just like what Mac saw with UT in the third quarter, resulting in a large gain for the Gators. The shallow cross remains, as you’ll see below. The choice turns into a corner, and the flat pivots into an angle route. The shallow will clear out for the angle and usually ends up in an easy throw and a lot of open field.
It’s a great pattern against zone because of the crossing route and the triangle stretch, but also is great against man defenses because of the rub you get out of the bunch formation. The other upside to this is running complementary patterns like this out of the same formation absolutely destroys pattern reading, making it extremely difficult for teams that play pattern match zone to gain a true advantage as jumping a flat route or a curl route could get them burned big time. It’s almost like giving your receiver an option route without requiring him to actually read the defense. It keeps the defense honest, which in the end is what lets the offense be successful. Look for more bunch concepts in the coming weeks, such as the snag or the mesh play, as Mac and Nuss attempt to set defenses up for plays they have film on and then break tendencies as we approach the heart of the SEC schedule.